BREATHE IT IN deep. That’s January in your nostrils. The time when you grin, bear it and put that difficult Christmas period behind you.

It was also January when Munster fell to Connacht, but New Year’s Day is to January, what Paddy’s Day is to Lent – it just isn’t.

So today sees a curtain drawn around everything else in Munster’s world as they set about the business of extending their season. Zebre are first up, a big game only because of the main course of the do-or-die meeting with Saracens that follows.

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Fittingly, the Parma encounter also marks a new dawn for Munster’s blindside. Dave O’Callaghan played in the reverse fixture in Cork last February and suffered the knee injury that ended his season.

The 24-year-old has made a tentative comeback over the past two months, playing for his club Dolphin and Munster A along with a handful of cameos as a replacement for the southern province’s senior side. The peak of those senior appearances came with the scoring of a try during his 29 minutes of action against Leinster.

This afternoon, though, he starts. And that changes everything.

“I’m just delighted to be back, it was a long eight-month slog for me,” O’Callaghan told Red FM’s Big Red Bench this week.

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“You’re just losing your mind being out for that long, but the S and C staff looked after me well and got me in peak condition to get back.”

O’Callaghan will pack down in his preferred number six jersey with captain Peter O’Mahony making an intriguing  move across to openside with CJ Stander at number eight.

The pack also welcomes back Dave Foley in to the engine room for his first appearance since the back-to-back defeats against Clermont. With a potent back-line behind the returning internationals among the forwards, Munster’s selection is underling the message this week. They mean business.

“We know it’s a huge block [of games] for us. It’s a season-defining block. It’s about getting back on the front foot, getting a bit of consistency, making sure we’re clinical in everything we do and it starts with Zebre this weekend.,” adds O’Callaghan.

“They’ve beaten Ulster at home, they’re a physical team. They’ll come at us, they’ll be exactly what Connacht were at home. It’s a massive game for us, we’re going to have to be physical from the off.

“We’ll be looking to put right the stuff that didn’t quite go right for us against Connacht and no better side to that against than in Italy against a massive physical side like Zebre.”

Three games before the focus shifts to the Six Nations, three games to ensure Munster retain a European interest come springtime.



15. David Odiete

14. Giovanbattista Venditti

13. Tommaso Iannone

12. Kelly Haimona

11. Leonardo Sarto

10. Edoardo Padovani

9. Brendon Leonard.

1. Andrea De Marchi

2. Andrea Manici

3. Luca Redolfini

4 Quintin Geldenhuys

5. Marco Bortolami

6. Filippo Cristiano

7. Mauro Bergamasco

8. Dries van Schalwyk


16. Oliviero Fabiani

17. Luciano Leibson

18. Dario Chistollini

19. Valerio Bernabo

20 Jacopo Sarto

21. Luciano Orquera

22. Mirco Bergamasco

23. Guglielmo Palazzini


15. Felix Jones

14. Ronan O’Mahony

13. Pat Howard

12. JJ Hanrahan

11. Simon Zebo

10. Ian Keatley

9. Conor Murray

1. Eusebio Guinazu

2. Kevin O’Byrne

3. Stephen Archer

4. Dave Foley

5. Billy Holland

6. Dave O’Callaghan

7. Peter O’Mahony (capt)

8. CJ Stander.


16. Niall Scannell

17. James Cronin

18. John Ryan

19. Donncha O’Callaghan

20. Paddy Butler

21. Duncan Williams

22. Keith Earls

23. Johne Murphy.

Broadcast by Nuvotari, no planned live TV or radio coverage in Ireland.

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